A visually striking debut feature from Canadian filmmaker Drew Lint tackles some weighty themes, but suffers from a lack of narrative and lethargic pacing.
Let’s bitch it out…
Synopsis: Matthew (Antoine Lahaie) is a young Montrealer who has recently moved to Berlin, but the strange new city leaves him feeling isolated and withdrawn.
Things begin to change, however, when he meets Matthias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher). Charismatic, striking and sexy, Matthias is everything Matthew wants to be, and soon Matthew’s interest escalates from infatuation to obsession. He shaves his head, buys look-alike clothes and stalks Matthias through the streets of Berlin. After a motorbike accident lands Matthias in intensive care, Matthew seizes the opportunity to assume Matthias’ identity. In a bid for dominance, their shared power struggle careens between brutal passion and violence.
The synopsis for filmmaker Drew Lint’s first feature is a little misleading; M/M is not at all interested in plot. What little narrative there is in the film is completely subsumed by its visual aesthetic, which is both the film’s central strength and also its biggest weakness. There’s little doubt that this film will perform well on the LGBTQ festival circuit, but its prospects among everyday film audiences is more suspect.
The first third of the film is primarily from Matthew’s perspective. His status as a newly relocated Canadian is established via sporadic telephone calls with his mother, who is only heard, never shown. The lack of parental or authority figures looms over M/M, which lends the film a sense of youthful abandon that has gone unchecked.
Between shifts at his job as a lifeguard, Matthew checks out a hook-up app (German Grindr?) and connects with Matthias, who is lounging provocatively by the pool. Their initial encounter is presented in dream-like fashion – initially it seems as though Matthew has imagined Matthias…until the German twunk gets up and heads for the showers. This kind of semi-hallucinatory, unreliable narrative development occurs frequently throughout the film, casting suspicion on what is actually happening and lending the film a mildly surreal feel.
Matthew is immediately smitten with Matthias, bypassing sexual interest in favour of full-blown obsession. He stalks Matthias back to his apartment, hides in the bushes and voyeuristically watches Matthias in a sexual encounter. Later he friend requests him on Facebook and seeks out information from common contacts in order to gather more information.
The vast majority of this occurs wordlessly and, in fact, M/M is nearly dialogue-free. As a filmmaker, Lint excels at visual storytelling, rarely relying on dialogue for exposition or to advance the narrative. The result is a foregrounding of the stylistic choices such as colour, shot type and, most predominantly, editing. The effect is a frequently visually stunning film that simultaneously keeps the audience at arm’s length from its characters.
Matthias, in particular, is a bit of cipher: for the first third of the film he exists solely as a sexualized object for Matthew’s fantasies. Even when the perspective shifts to focus on him, he remains a mystery. Matthias is defined almost exclusively by his sexual encounters with various men, as well as his unusual job as a life model for a 3D printing lab (which contributes some of M/M‘s most striking images during the scanning, animation and printing work).
Despite the lack of dialogue and narrative thrust, M/M is never difficult to follow and, particularly early on, it is easy to get lost in Lint’s visuals. Unfortunately the film loses focus in its final act, by which time the themes have been hammered home and the mysteries of the relationship mostly extinguished. A tighter edit would have aided the pacing and ensured that the film didn’t overstay its welcome.
Despite its third act flaws, M/M remains an engrossing debut feature. Lint has crafted a beautifully sumptuous film that tackles issues of isolation, obsession, fetishization, and sexual connection. Festival goers with an appreciation for art cinema and the male physique should find plenty to enjoy.
M/M made its debut at the 2018 Inside/Out Film Festival and screens at Carlton Cinema in Toronto through June 7.